Gen Pervez Musharraf is not known as a man who will vacillate in taking a decision. Unfortunately this time he does not have the luxury of a choice, the stakes are too high for this country. While the President has condemned terrorism in very strong language, the US wants him to put his money where Pakistan’s mouth is, i.e. translate rhetoric into concrete measures in line with a US wish-list which, though not disclosed publicly, seeks to isolate the ruling Afghan government logistically (no fuel, no war material) while providing concrete military support in form of intelligence, logistics and troops. The world’s media seems to be taking its cue from the various statements of top US leaders in Administration and from the US Congress in labelling Osama Bin Laden as the prime suspect. Almost gleefully, Indian PM Vajpayee has not wasted any time linking Pakistan to terrorism, that India supported the Soviets against the US during the Afghan War is forgotten. While it does look bad for Afghanistan, all the hijackers were of Arab origin, even a tenuous link with Afghanistan is yet to be established. Western intelligence agencies are desperately looking for “a smoking gun” linking Osama to the heinous crime in the US. If that should happen, Pakistan would have no choice but to be in the forefront of those forces that will act against this terrorist and his Talibaan protectors. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.
To act militarily against the Talibaan would be tragic on many fronts, not the least the possible reaction in the streets. While the Talibaan are not a Pakistani creation, we acted as midwives at their birth in Kandahar, nursing them along as they united the many Afghan people against the predator Afghan Mujhahideen factions that, having fought the guerilla war against the Soviet Union, ruled arbitrarily the areas they controlled post-Soviet forces departure from Afghanistan. The impoverished locals enjoyed their new-found “freedom” being forced to pay “octroi” and “taxes” at the point of a gun. In comparison the Talibaan brought relative peace to the part of the Afghanistan they controlled, disarming everyone, never done before in history in Afghanistan. The general population saw them as saviours, the hapless population even tolerating their extreme brand of Islam where women have been virtually disenchanfrished and centuries of progress duly retarded. This extreme “fundamentalism” alienated most Muslim nations, only three, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognize them, the western media finds it convenient to mention Pakistan only. While it is a fact that the Talibaan do listen to Pakistan, they only do so if and when they want to.
No act of terrorism can ever be justified. Seeming to condone Osama’s terrorism by not being tougher with his Talibaan protectors and by the participation of some Afghan Mujhahideen in the freedom struggle in Kashmir, Pakistan has by default allor MMIndia’s propaganda machine to couple the freedom fighters in Kashmir with terrorists. The guerillas in Kashmir are no different from revolutionaries anywhere seeking independence, their targets are mostly uniformed men and installations thereof, light years different from terrorism which mostly preys on soft civilian targets. The US atrocity was a brutal, callous and monstrous act which can never be explained by sane logic, viz (1) commercial airlines aircraft full of fuel were used as live bombs, the whole complement were innocent civilians and (2) the World Trade Center (WTC) was totally occupied by hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The perpetrators deserve nothing but brute, overwhelming force of maximum impact delivered on them, as swiftly as possible. Talibaan have stated over the years that their guest cannot involve himself directly or indirectly in terrorism, this sanctuary Osama Bin Laden has repeatedly violated. By providing him safe haven, the Talibaan become direct accessories to this outrage.
A terrorist operation of this size could not have been planned and executed without a great deal of money and logistics, not discounting the time spent in planning and training. To gather so many (19) motivated personnel ready for certain death in coordinating one such operation is by itself quite difficult to organize or keep secret for long. The western intelligence agencies should have definitive proof in a short time, bank accounts, money transfers, various communications, etc cannot remain hidden once the identities and addresses have become known. But let’s not forget others who could inflict such brutal pain on the US, like Iraq’s Saddam Hussain and the Serbs of Yugoslavia, both have the capacity (and the brutality) to have planned and executed this operation. Using Arab surrogates, they would be secure in the knowledge that the anticipated US reaction in vengeance-seeking. The Serbs may have started the third world “war of civilizations”, targetting the muslims they have hated for over many centuries, thus killing two birds with one stone. A Serb started World War 1 by his act of assassination in Sarajevo in 1914, we must also remember “the Polish incident” in World War 2 when Hitler had German Jews murdered by his own SS on the German-Polish border but shown as killed by Polish troops, serving as a pretext to invade Poland. There is also a shadowy link to Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the Iranian connection thereof, not to say the one with Egypt’s Islami Jihad. Let’s face it, uptil now we have Arabs (of Saudi origin and UAE driving licences), Iranians and Egyptians as identified in the terrorist chain, no Pakistanis and no Afghans. Yet if Osama Bin Laden is involved in any manner, Pakistan can only distance itself from this heinous act by moving against him, providing not only airspace and logistics but troops taking part in the operation.
The decisions require both combat knowledge and maturity, Musharraf is thus out on his own, most of his immediate colleagues lacking war experience. For the sake of the innocent people of Afghanistan, Pakistan has to be a full participant, western nations will tend to indiscriminate firepower to limit their own casualties. Being Muslims, we will exercise greater fire control than others. It becomes necessary for Pakistan to provide not only the intelligence and logistics but maximum air and ground forces for the coalition. Experienced combat commanders down the line must be chosen in the operational line-up, history has shown that commanders with battle experience tend to be far less bloodthirsty than paper tigers, they will also be far careful in the employment of their own troops to keep down own casualties. We must encourage the Talibaan to give up Osama Bin Laden, this is not a war one would wish for, unfortunately this is a war we have no option but to fight.
Pakistan missed a great opportunity to be counted when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ambition was to be a world-renowned mediator and Beg Sahib was the proponent of “strategic defiance” of the west. This attitude gave a negative perception, causing us to lose big, across the board, in goodies that other coalition members got post-war (Egypt had it’s entire US $ 15 billion defence debt forgiven). If Osama Bin Laden is it, he must be taken out like a cancer, street reaction in Pakistan notwithstanding. A responsible print and electronic media can make them aware of the several hundred innocent Pakistanis buried in the rubble of the WTC. Do we write them off as “expendable” just because some “hero” is involved? There is no heroics in killing innocents in order to seek vengeance. Terrorism is cowardly and can never ever be explained, but one must caution that more terrorists will be created if Afghan becomes a free-fire zone, the surgical strike must focus on the actual criminals. The US has to very careful in sifting through the evidence and applying positive conclusion. Given conclusive evidence about Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan will have no choice but to make Osama Bin Laden a part of history.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.